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Slow Down, Curves Ahead : The way some designers see it, grown women want glamour and elegance. Not frou-frou. : SPRING COLLECTIONS / NEW YORK

November 07, 1994|DEBRA GENDEL | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

NEW YORK — The reason women's clothing fascinates us is that womanhood fascinates us. Not as in that insipid treatise, "Fascinating Womanhood," but as in our struggle to be strong, smart, loving, successful, happy and attractive.

Considering the complexity of our daily lives, it's amazing that clothing manufacturers can even put a dent in our need to look the part when there are so many parts to play.

This is not a problem for men. They aren't paralyzed by an endless variety of artful disguises. Some women, too, opt for rigid dress codes, limiting their wardrobes to all black, all Armani, all Gap.

All well and good. But time marches on, and as author and art historian Anne Hollander points out, the eye hungers for something new to feast upon. What shape, what color, what fabric might we wrap ourselves in to hint at--or hide--what's going on inside in 1995?

The consensus from the spring designer collections, which ended here on Friday night, is that glamour, femininity and elegance are the points on the fashion compass that stylish women will aim for in the coming year.

It may be hard to imagine an elegant woman wearing Liza Bruce's rubber dress and a mohawk. Or a feminine woman (whatever that means) donning Donna Karan's tailored jacket, a bra top and a lace-trimmed slip. Let's just say that in the rhetoric of fashion, seasonal labels are tossed around like croutons. Anyone who would take them too literally should know better.

Women with more than a passing interest in the subject would probably rather know that the best designers, like Donna Karan, Richard Tyler, Calvin Klein and Michael Kors, have turned their backs on the frou-frou, bright colors and heavy-handed retro that so enchanted young and not-so-young designers earlier in the week.

Although each did the requisite bra tops and skin-tight knee-length skirts, they also showed clean-lined cocktail dresses and the kind of straightforward tailored sportswear American women rely on to get through car pools, breakfast meetings, interviews, sticky political maneuvers and dinners at Dive!

Donna Karan caters to grown-up women who like grown-up clothes. In fact, her customers tend to be a lot like the models she selected to show off the clothes--big girls, like Tatjana Patitz--with plenty of money and plenty of curves. And if a woman's curves aren't lush enough, Karan can help out with sculpted slips, seamed halters, well-cut belts and built-in bras.

At the Richard Tyler show, the suits were visions of tailoring heaven. But it was his organza pajama set that took him to another, almost Asian direction, in which something soft becomes something sculptural.

Sigourney Weaver, who has just the right body for Tyler's bias-cut movie star dresses, was among the celebs applauding from the front row, while Cindy Crawford made a rare runway appearance for the designer. Donna Karan called on Isabella Rossellini to do her runway thing, which really emphasized that Karan's clothes are best worn by tall women.

The expectation at Anna Sui was so high that one woman began slapping a photographer who blocked her view of the runway. Two photographers cursed at each other during the entire show. Security guards had to physically push photographers into the pit not far from actress Debi Mazar's front-row seat. The show, however, didn't come alive till the end, when Linda Evangelista walked out in a '40s print dress, a lace blindfold tied around her eyes, a small flogging whip in one hand.

Cynthia Rowley romped through a variety of decades and managed to come through unscathed. Her Las Vegas gambler/Elvis impersonator motif was the funniest group. No self-respecting L.A. expatriate should head for the desert without her giant jeweled belt buckle, slot-machine T-shirt or tumbling dice bracelet. Viva Las Vegas. As long as someone else plays the part of the showgirl.

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